Belgrade International Film Festival
Branko Schmidt
director of "Queen of the Night"
Interview by Radmila Djurica

WV: What type of Croatian audience do you prefer most, mainstream or art film?

Branko: The Croatian audience prefers mainstream and comedy better than the art film. I think that today people are going to movies to watch American films. American films have such productions that go along with big finances and advertising campaigns that are pushing away every other kind of cinematography, including Croatian.

American film production has advertisement campaigns that are big shiny packages that are attractive and hard to resist. We all know that American film trailers are out on the world's market even before film gets finished. I'm talking about a big commercial machine that eats everything ahead of it.

WV: Where is the Croatian movie today when it comes to big European International Festivals?

Branko: Croatia is a young country that recently finished the war for independence of 1995. There was not enough time for Croatia to build up important and valid connections in the film business. All previous connections were cut down, because in old Yugoslavia the center of Yugoslavian film was in Belgrade, so Croatian film was also represented in Belgrade's office. Today the main work is done through the personal and individual effort of the film producer or the director, by making connections and finding finances for the film.

WV: Yet, the very same problems are faced by Serbian film as well, as the old connections have been stripped away from Serbian film-makers, too.

Branko: I think that this situation needs more hard work when it comes to developing the Croatian film market. Still, Serbian Film Screen had and still has FEST, an international film festival with a tradition of 30 years, and producers as well as film directors can achieve contacts and their goals easier.

WV: Is there any independent director in Croatia?

Branko: Perhaps there are independent Croatian film directors, but they are living abroad, out of Croatia. Directors like Lordan Zafranovic and Rajko Grlic. There is no developed market in Croatia, so no one can easily become independent.

WV: How much nostalgia is presented in popular/mainstream Croatian cinematography?

Branko: I don't know if there are any such films made in the past 10 years. Queen of the Night is kinda the first nostalgia film in recent Croatian cinematography. Snjezana Tribuson, based on Goran Tribuson's book, is making a film that happens in the 60s.

WV: Did you expect to receive the Best Production Award at the Film Festival in Pula?

Branko: Not really. I don't think that anyone can hope for such a thing at the festivals, because there are too many people involved in the judging. I'm very happy about this film and about Croatian Television winning the Best Production Award at the festival.

WV: How many people saw "Queen of the Night" in Croatia?

Branko: For a film that is still in distribution, it is nice to know that this film was seen by about 20,000 people. When we reach more than 20,000, it means the film is successful, only because Croatian audience do not go to the movies often. I expect that this figure will be 30,000 soon.

WV: What are your plans for making movies with the present interests and the situation in Croatia?

Branko: I just finished the first part of a script with Croatian actor Ivo Gregurevic based on his idea about the illegal Chinese people trafficking problem in Croatia. This film is about the business relationship between Chinese women and Croatian low-lifes. Right after this conference, we are off to the Chinese Downtown Market .

WV: Do you think that distribution of Queen of the Night in Serbia can be successful?

Branko: I saw a very good response from a Serbian audience last night. I think that it could be successful.

WV: How do you see the need to portray the past in present cinematography, even if that's not a very popular subject today in Croatia?

Branko: I'm personally from Slavonia. In Slavonia Osjek, Vukovar and Dubrovnik people have suffered during the civil war more that was case with people living in Zagreb, and I've also been doing documentaries about it. This film is very well accepted by Croatian audiences, which really helped me personally.

WV: How did you get the idea to make Queen of the Night?

Branko: The idea came with the time. When you get to a certain age, you think about the past, and how better and prettier things were back then.

WV: How the shooting of the film in Osjek accepted by ordinary people? Was it a secret?

Branko: Not at all; in a very short time everybody knew about. it. We even ended up in court, because a local woman recognised herself in the role of prostitute. Of course, I did not mean her; every single town has its own.

WV: In Queen of the Night you are portraying Tito's communist regime very cynically.

Branko: Yes, I certainly do; that was the goal.


Branko Schmidt at the festival,
with Queen producer Vesna Mort

WV: Some of the main characters in the film were chosen just before shooting?

Branko: When God shuts the doors, at least he opens the window. We had three cancellations of the three main characters just before the first day of shooting. But it turns out that new actors were a better idea after all.

WV: Who's the young, gorgeous actor who played the main character, Tomo?

Branko: That is Luka Dragic; he's finishing Drama Academy and he's very well reviewed by the critics and the audience. He has a charismatic, urban-like face for the future. His face is not very usual.

WV: What do you expect from the future?

Branko: I plan to visit more festivals and break the isolation of Croatian film.

WV: What is your taste when it comes to favorite film directors?

Branko: I'm personally open to classic film directors, and I'm not following modern cinematography in the way that today's youth does. In my past years at Drama Academy we used to have a classic film school. My favourite directors are (Howard) Hawks and (John) Ford.

WV: How about Croatian directors?

Branko: Kreso Golik and Ante Babaja.

WV: How about Serbian directors?

Branko: Zika Pavlovic and Vesna Mort, a film producer.

WV: Is it hard to make a film that is about the past of Croatia in former Yugoslavia?

Branko: It is very hard. The biggest film producer in Croatia is Croatia Radio-Television. Queen of the Night was shot to look as it looks now because of the Croatian Television. Most of the films in the last past years have financed by the Croatian Ministry of Culture with the cooperation of Croatian Television. Croatian Television usually gives the additional services in equipment or in additional money. As the system of sponsorships on the market didn't made stable enough roots for the well being, that is the only way to make films in Croatia.

WV: Is there any chance to engage Croatian actors who are famous outside of Croatia in some future film projects? Someone like Goran Visnjic or Mira Furlan. Goran is living in USA, with quite a career behind him in American film already, and Mira is also playing in one of USA's TV serials.

Branko: Yes, Goran Visnjic is working on a project produced by Croatian Television right now. And Mira is planning a project that is not developed yet.

WV: Can you make a comparison between Croatian film now and Croatian film before old Yugoslavia went apart?

Branko: Aesthetically or financially?

WV: Financially?

Branko: Now it's much harder to make a film than before. There is no valid market in Croatia that would finance a film with donations and sponsorships.

WV: What about independent Croatian producers?

Branko: There are a few, but none of them have made major improvements yet. They all work in collaboration with Croatian Television and the Croatia Ministry of Culture. That was a good idea once, but it didnít amount in enough money.

WV: How much did Queen of the Night cost?

Branko: The film cost about $800,000 US, or about $1,700,000 DM.

WV: Who financed the project?

Branko: Croatian Radio Television and the Ministry of Culture of the Croatian Republic.

WV: Is there any possibility for Croatian film to make contacts and cooperate with American film production, in order to make USA-Croatian co-production films that would involve high budget American actors?

Branko: Why not? Croatian film production is always open for new business deals and for a big culture relationship with American film production. We are always open for new ideas and new projects.

WV: Have there been any such suggestions or offers made so far?

Branko: Not for now, yet there was an attempt in individual private production, but this film is still in distribution and it is too early to talk about it.



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